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CIA vs. MPG

How good is the CIA these days? In a world with jihadists seeking nuclear weapons, and two hot wars under way, we all have a vital need to know if the intelligence agency is accomplishing its mission.

A clear picture is hard to come by, but the CIA has not been shy about releasing some indicators, and they are encouraging. The CIA has been making progress in an arena in which Congress has mandated dramatic improvements: environmental protection.

According to a series of unclassified CIA reports, the spy agency has managed to enhance significantly the fuel efficiency of the vehicles used by its operatives. It has been avidly working to decrease the amount of gasoline the agency’s LDV’s consume. An LDV is the CIA acronym for “light-duty vehicle,” or in non-spyspeak, a car.

Enhancing fuel efficiency has been a longstanding goal of the American intelligence community, dating back to the Clinton era, when “greening the government” was given high priority, with vice president Al Gore serving as point man. In 1996, just as Osama bin Laden was gearing up to attack American embassies in Africa, the CIA began experimenting with a variety of different fuels for its vehicles, focusing in particular on CNG, or “compressed natural gas.” But this program had debilitating problems from the outset and led ultimately to a disappointing agency failure.

A first step in the plan was to set up a natural-gas filling station. The location of this station has not been publicly disclosed, but there is reason to believe it is located on the CIA’s main campus in Langley, Virginia. But even with the presence of such a filling station in this central espionage hub, the operation did not get off the ground. In the CIA’s characteristically opaque language, “attempts to convert to CNG vehicles were complicated by a variety of issues.”

One such issue was that CIA agents were “reluctant to use the CNG station because of the range restrictions” of natural-gas powered vehicles. The problem evidently became particularly acute in summertime; CNG tends to expand “during warmer months,” a characteristic which “restricted the amount of fuel available for tank use” and thus further reduced vehicle range. In the end, the CIA’s CNG program collapsed in disarray when the supplier “removed the station because an insignificant amount of alternative fuel was being used.”

Today, however, as CIA reports make clear, progress in the quest for greater fuel efficiency is once again being made. In 2005, the “average mpg per vehicle” in the CIA’s automobile fleet was 18.3 mpg. This represents a significant increase from 16.8 mpg average in the period 1999-2004.

Thank goodness that the CIA (whose other significant accomplishments I’ve written about in the pages of COMMENTARY here and here) is on the road to energy-efficiency. Everyone can sleep safer tonight, including Osama bin Laden.



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